At about 2.35 am on Saturday, February 16, 2019, the Chairman of Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mamood Yakubu, announced the postponement of the Presidential and National Assembly elections scheduled to commence at 8.00 am on that day. He set a new date, February 23 and March 9, 2019, for the two main elections. Nigerians from all walks of life felt justifiably disappointed and angry.
At a well-attended stakeholders’ forum at 2.00 pm the same day, the INEC chairman attributed the postponement of the election to logistic challenges which made it impossible for the Commission to deliver requisite election materials to all parts of the country to enable elections commence at the same time in all parts of the country. This, he said necessitated postponement of the election.
In spite of his persuasive presentation, most Nigerians took the explanations of the INEC chairman with a pinch of salt. They wondered why the Commission had to wait for six hours before the commencement of polls to discover the logistic challenges facing it.
At an emergency caucus meeting in Abuja on February 18, 2019, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) unleashed a flurry of unsubstantiated allegations against the Commission. The APC National Chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole alleged that INEC shared information relating to the postponed election with the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP). On his part, former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Godswill Akpabio who defected from PDP to APC in August 2018 alleged that the REC for Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Mike Igini was working hand in hand with the Government of the state. The two party chiefs failed to produce any iota of evidence to support their weighty allegations.
President Muhammadu Buhari questioned the credibility of INEC and threatened that the electoral body would have to explain its “incompetence”. More ominously, he said among other things: “I am going to warn anybody who decides to snatch ballot boxes or lead thugs to disturb it (elections) may be that would be the last unlawful action he would take.
This call to extra-judicial killings and jungle justice by the President of a democratic state was roundly criticized by all well-meaning citizens.
In the afternoon of the same day, the Department of State Services (DSS) invited Professor Ibeanu, INEC Commissioner in charge of logistics and four other officals of the Commission for questioning. Some persons reportedly invaded Professor Ibeanu’s home in Enugu. Unknown persons also broke into his car and removed valuable personal equipment including laptops and iPADs. APC supporters also staged protests demanding removal of RECs for Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Rivers States.
Keen observers of the Nigerian political turf place the reactions of APC leaders to shift in the election date within a pattern of cowing the electorate as well as intimidating and arm-twisting the Commission to dance to the tune of the ruling party. In the circumstance, the Commission faces a daunting moral burden to maintain the requisite level of impartiality in executing its onerous task, which is even more challenging than the logistic nightmares that prompted the initial postponement of the election.
Therefore, the most critical factor that would make or mar the credibility of the 2019 elections is the moral status or impartiality of the electoral umpire.
The challenge of democracy
The June 12, 1993 truncated polls shows the extent to which military tyrants could go to thwart democratic ideals to serve their devious political objectives at the cost of severe human suffering which they inflict on the populace to achieve their anti-democratic ambitions. It also shows that democratic values can only be defended through the determined action of civil society, not the presumed voluntary goodness of military tyrants.
June 12, 1993 presidential election also cleared the air that a Nigerian could be trusted to be firm and fair. Prof. Nwosu, Chairman of the defunct NEC and his team performed creditably. He did not share the company of those who brought shame and dishonour to Nigerian intellectuals as the ready handmade of devils in Nigerian politics. His performance is abundant evidence that Nigeria does not lack men of honour and integrity as is generally presumed. It is proof of the fact that some Nigerians still have courage enough to embrace and hold on to the truth despite threats by merchants of violence.
The presidential election rescheduled for February 23 and March 9, 2019, presents Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and his team with the grimmest challenge of their lives. There is no doubt that they face intense pressure from the cabal that is currently running Nigeria including agents planted in the Commission by the cabal. Like Prof. Nwosu in 1993, Prof. Yakubu must choose whether to satisfy transient hustlers for power and go down in history as the man who let the country down in its hour of great need. He is also free to face the odds with courage and maintain a solid personal integrity in defence of democracy. By so doing, he stands to write his name in gold in Nigeria’s electoral and political history.
Biose, a former university teacher and human rights activist, is the National Coordinator, Team Niger Delta for Atiku/Obi